History of the 46th Regiment
1764 - 1778


Colonel the Honourable William Howe was appointed by His Majesty King George III from the 58th to the colonelcy of the 46th regiment on the 21st November, 1764, in succession to Lieutenant-General the Honourable Thomas Murray, deceased.

In the autumn of the year 1767, the 46th Regiment returned to Great Britain, and was stationed in Ireland for eight years.

Serious disputes had, in the meantime, arisen, on the subject of taxation, between the colonists in North America and the British Government. The passing of the Stamp Act, in 1764, was the first cause of irritation, but the spirit of discontent was partially allayed by its repeal in 1766. This feeling was again aroused, in the following year, by the Bill for levying duties on certain articles imported from England, which was repealed in 1770, with the exception of the duty on tea, which was retained as an assertion of the right of taxation inherent in the British Legislature. After the cargoes of tea sent to Boston in 1773 had been emptied into the sea, an Act of Parliament was passed in the year 1774 for closing that port.

The colonist adopted retaliatory measures, and subsequently made preparations for an appeal to arms.

On the 19th April, 1775, the first hostile collision took place at Lexington, between His Majesty's troops and the colonists in the unhappy contest, which was soon to assume a most formidable character.

Upon Major-General the Honourable Sir William Howe, KB, being removed to the colonelcy of the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, on the 11th May, 1775, Brevet Colonel the Honourable John Vaughan was appointed to the vacant colonelcy of the 46th Regiment.

The conflict at Lexington was followed by the battle of Bunker's Hill, which was fought on 17th June, 1775.

These events caused several regiments to be embarked for America early in the year 1776; the 46th embarked from Ireland at this period, and arrived on the coast of North Carolina early in April, when Major-General Henry Clinton, who was serving with the local rank of General in America, assumed the command. The men landed at Cape Fear to refresh themselves after the voyage, and returning on baord the transports, sailed on 1st June with the expedition against Charleston. After passing Charleston bar, the troops landed on one of the islands; but the armament proved of insufficient strength for the capture of the capital of South Carolina, and the troops re-embarked, and proceeded to Staten Island, where the main body of the British forces had assembled under Major-General the Honourable Sir William Howe, KB, who was also serving with the local rank of General in America. The 17th, 40th, 46th and 55th Regiments were here formed in brigade under Major-General James Grant.

On the 4th of July, 1776, the traitorous colonists who formed the self-styled "American Congress" issued a unilateral declaration of independence, abjuring their allegiance to the Crown of Great Britain, and all hope of accommodation failed.

A landing was effected by the British on Long Island on the 22nd of August, and in the evening of the 26th the army wwas put in motion to pass a range of woody heights, which intersected the island, and to attack the American force in position beyond the hills. The column under Major-General Grant, of which the 46th formed part, was directed to advance along the coast, with ten pieces of cannon, to draw the enemy's attention to that quarter. Moving forward at the appointed hour, this column fell in with the advanced parties of Americans about midnight, and at daybreak on the following morning, encountered a large body of troops formed in an advantageous position, defended by artillery. Skirmishing and cannonading ensued, and were continued until the Americans discovered by the firing at Brooklyn, that the left of their army had been turned and forced, when they retreated in great confusion through a morass. The American army, being driven from its positions with severe loss, made a precipitate retreat to their fortified line at Brooklyn.

The Americans quitted their fortified lines during the night of the 28th August, and retired across the East River, in boats, to New York; the reduction of Long Island was accomplished in a few days, with little loss.

The regiment shared in the operations by which the capture of New York was accomplished; also in the movements by which the Americans were driven from White Plains, and in the reduction of Fort Washington.

After the reduction of Fort Washington, and of Fort Lee on the opposite side of the North, or Hudson's River, the regimentcontinued the pursuit of the enemy across the Jerseys, by Elizabeth Town, Raway, &c., towards Philadelphia, and remained during the following winter at Amboy.

The 46th Regiment occupied an old transport ship as a barrack, and being actively employed during the winter in constant escorts of ammunition, was continually attacked between that place and New Brunswick, on the way to Trenton, Princetown, and Burlington, where the advance of the British army had taken up winter quarters.

During the winter, General Washington suddenly passed the Delaware River, and succeeded in surprising and making prisoners a corps of Hessians at Trenton, but he afterwards made a precipitate retreat. Being reinforced, he again crossed the river, and took up a position at Trenton.

Information having been received that the Americans were forming magazines at Peek's Hill, about fifty miles up the North River, the 46th Regiment was detached against that post, with a body of troops, which sailed from New York on the 22nd March, 1777, and as they approached Peek's Hill, the Americans set fire to the stores, and retreated. The British landed, completed the destruction of the magazines, barracks, &c., and subsequently returned to their former quarters at New York.

Afterwards taking the field with the army in the Jerseys, the 46th Regiment was engaged in the operations designed to bring the enemy to a general engagement; but the Americans kept close in their fortified lines in the mountains; an expedition against the populous and wealthy city of Philadelphia was next undertaken.

Embarking from Sandy Hook, the army, of which the 46th formed part, proceeded to the Chesapeake, and landed on the northern shore of the Elk River on the 25th August. The American army took up a positiion at Brandywine, to oppose the advance, and on the 11th September the Royal forces moved forward to engage their opponents. The action proved decisive; the enemy was driven from his position, and forced to make a precipitate retreat. The 46th sustained but trifling loss on this occasion.

In order to harass the Royal forces, General Washington posted several detachments in such a manner as to command all the roads and avenues to their encampment. He seized every opportunity of drawing detached parties into ambuscades, which was the more readily effected, as the country was in his interest, and the provincial army abounded with persons fully acquainted with all its local advantages.

A very considerable detachment employed in this manner, lay concealed in the depth of a forest near Paoli, at a short distance behind the British camp; it consisted of fifteen hundred men, commanded by General Wayne.

General Sir William Howe, upon receiving this intelligence, despatched Major-General Charles (afterwards Earl) Grey with a body of troops in the middle of the night of the 20th September to surprise this detachment of the enemy.

The light company of the 46th Regiment was engaged in this enterprise, (as part of the Light Battalion which had been formed from the light companies of six regiments), along with the 42nd and 44th Regiments of Foot, both regiments with which the 46th had served under Sir John Cope, at Prestonpans, thirty-two years previously. The troops advanced in profound silence to the outposts of the enemy, which were surprised and secured without the least noise. It was then between twelve and one. The main body of the American army, unapprised of its danger, had retired to rest. Directed by the light of the camp fires, the party under Major-General Grey proceeded undiscovered to the enemy's encampment, and rushed upon the foe with their bayonets. Three hundred Americans were killed and wounded, and a great number taken prisoner, with most of their arms and baggage. Obscurity saved those who escaped, as it had before at Brandywine Creek. The British had only one officer, one sergeant, and one private soldier killed, and a few men wounded, in this attack.

The Americans having vowed vengeance for the attack at Paoli (which they deemed a "massacre"), and that they would give no quarter, the soldiers of the Light Battalion declared that in order to prevent any one not engaged in the action from suffering on their account, that they would dye the feathers worn in their caps red, as a distinguishing mark, and, no doubt, to taunt the rebels with a reminder of the American blood that had been shed. Whether the gesture was brave, or merely arrogant, the Light Company of the 46th retained it for many years after the other light companies of the Light Battalion had quietly dropped it. The Red Feathers became an officially-sanctioned mark of distinction for the Light Company of the 46th in 1833, which was extended to the entire regiment on the abolition of Light Companies in 1858. It was retained by the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, on the creation of that regiment by the amlgamation of the 32nd and 46th in 1881, and despite numerous amalgamations since, the "Red Feathers" can still be seen in the British Army today, in their latest incarnation as the backing of the badge of The Light Infantry.

The British Army advanced on Philadelphia, took possession of that city, and occupied a position at Germantown. The Americans attempted to surprise the British troops early in the morning of the 4th October, 1777, and at first gained some advantage, but were soon repulsed with severe loss.

The regiment passed the winter in quarters at Philadelphia, and in the spring of 1778, it furnished several detachments, which ranged the country in various directions to open communiactions for obtaining provisions. At this time, General the Honourable Sir William Howe returned to England, and resigned the command of the army to General Sir Henry Clinton, KB. The regiment also took part in the fatigues and difficulties of the march of the army from Philadelphia, through the Jerseys, in order to return to New York, and the flank companies were engaged on the 28th June in repulsing the attack of the enemy on the rear of the column at Monmouth Court House, near Freehold in New Jersey.

The army had marched from Philadelphia to New York in consequence of the King of France having engaged to aid the Americans, which circumstance changed the character of the war. Shortly after the arrival of the British army at New York a powerful French armament appeared off that port. The enemy had a great superiority of numbers; but the enthusiasm in the British navy and army was unbounded, and the hour of contest was looked forward to with sanguine expectations. The enemy did not, however, venture to hazard an attack; but proceeded against Rhode Island; a numerous body of Americans co-operated in the enterprise, and beseiged Newport. The British Fleet put to sea, and the 33rd, 42nd, 46th and 64th Regiments embarked, under Major-General Grey, to join the fleet at the east end of Long Island.

When the transports were about to sail, information was received of the departure of the French fleet from Rhode Island, and while at sea, news arrived of the Americans having raised the siege of Newport. The troops were then directed to proceed against Bedford, on the Accushnet River, a noted place for American privateers. On the evening of the 5th September the troops landed - overcame all opposition - destroyed seventy privateers and other ships - demolished the fort and artillery - blew up the magazine - destroyed an immense quantity of naval stores &c., and returned on board the transports at noon the following day. The troops afterwards proceeded against Martha's Vineyard - destroyed the defences - took three hundred and ninety-eight stands of arms from the militia - obliged the inhabitants to deliver up three hundred oxen, ten thousand sheep, and a thousand pounds sterling collected by the Congress. After this success the regiment returned to New York.

According to Masonic records, there was a traveling Lodge in the 46th Regiment, holding its Warrant of Constitution under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. It is said that after an engagement between the American and British forces, in which the latter were defeated, the private chest of the Lodge, containing its jewels, furniture and implements, fell into the hands of the Americans. The captors reported the circumstances to General Washington, who at once ordered the chest to be returned to the Lodge and the regiment, under a guard of honor. "The surprise," says a historian of the event, himself an Englishman and a Mason, "the feeling of both officers and men may be imagined, when they perceived the flag of truce that announced this elegant compliment from their noble opponent, but still more noble brother. The guard of honour, with their music playing a sacred march - the chest containing the Constitution and implements of the Craft borne aloft, like another ark of the covenant, equally by Englishmen and Americans, who lately engaged in the strife of war, now marched through the enfiladed ranks of the gallant regiment that, with presented arms and colors, hailed the glorious act by cheers, which the sentiment rendered sacred as the hallelujahs of an angel's song." It has not, as yet, proven possible to confirm this remarkable tale, which, given that it it is predicated on the existence of an engagement in which the 46th Regiment took part, and in which the Americans were victorious, must be considered to be of questionable veracity. The British were the victors of every battle in America in which the 46th were engaged.

A powerful French Armament menacing the British possessions in the West Indies, the 46th and other regiments sailed from North America early in November 1778, for Barbados, under Major-General James Grant.


Other Sources of Information

Timeline covering the 32nd and 46th Regiments and the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, 1702-1997.



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